(TL note: nareshov's diary)

On Indian (Residential Internet) Service Providers

with one comment

One of the reasons a South Korean or a Japanese person would quote to you when asked “Why is it that in your country Internet speeds are quite high compared to the rest?” is “We’re quite densely populated and real estate is costly so homes tend to be much closer to each other which made it a good idea at that time to install fiber optic cables everywhere rather than CAT5” and they’re reaping the benefits of a well-networked country with high Internet speeds.

India is quite densely populated too – at least in the metros – and yet we’re stuck decades behind countries like Romania (which recently surpassed the USA as having a better average Internet speed). I wonder if this is a general trend in tropical countries. The lack of long-sightedness or long-term thoughts or decision-making. Maybe we’re all too comfortable around here (compared to Scandinavia or Siberia, for instance).

The concept of a “good service” is poorly understood in nations with high population densities. It’s a matter of numbers you see. Having been close to one of the largest online service providers (for canned commodities such as web or mail hosting), I’m all too familiar with the sort of attitude an Indian businessman possesses when he markets a service. You’re not important. You’re just another node in the huge graph. If I lose you as a customer, there’ll be another. I can go on losing a customer per day because I’m used to the fact that there’s always another customer (or two) who’ll take your place. So why are you special again?

This is applicable to practically everything around these parts in the mid-sector. What I mean by mid-sector is: the sector that addresses the mass. The middle-class.

A middle-class-style lunch house or restaurant would not have the sort of waiters who’d even recite the menu politely to you. You’ll have to put in extra efforts to get attention. You’re just another customer (of the numerous that go in and out each day).

Oh, and hygiene. Since you’re replaceable or not too important as an individual. I wouldn’t take extra care when it comes to hygiene or even fresh food ingredients (especially the non-vegetarian processed foods). Don’t expect that chicken salami sandwich to be fresh all the time, they will not get rid of it by themselves. And forget about expiry dates on them.

Same applies to roads. Nobody seems to have put in a long-term vision and taken the stand to take the initial losses in order to gain the long-term profits. There was an estimate someone had put out stating the astronomical losses India faces per year solely due to lack of decent roads. Day to day commutes to work and back home is quite taxing – both mentally and physically.

Oops. Let me get back to the Internet service provider issue now.

So, FTTH is still quite costly around here. Sure, there are cables laid around here and there. (And by nature, the first telecom entity that bids and gets fiber optics laid out is always the loss-maker. But someone’s gotta do it). I don’t know if the likes of BSNL are sitting on their butts waiting for people to finally give in to the insane prices or just underprice the damn thing (and take the initial – short term – losses) and reap the long term benefits of increased subscription-base.

Sure, this doesn’t always work: Volkswagon Polo, for instance, underpriced their 10L factory costing car to 6-7L but still haven’t gained the sort of traction the Hyundais or Swifts do. But it’s worth a try – especially in an increasingly net-savvy metropolitans.

Where I live, it seems only Airtel and BSNL are the only ISPs around. We did have BSNL earlier and not knowing that it had better speed plans, I took the plunge of getting rid of them and signing up for Airtel (whom I’ve had a good experience with while I was at Mumbai last year). The 4mbps connection is what I had and was quite happy with it until this August. When the rains began pouring in Bangalore.

The signal-to-noise ratio would deteriorate quite badly whenever it rained. The issue was quite obvious – anybody with half-a-brain would attribute this to poor sheathing of the copper cable – which isn’t in my home – out there anywhere between the CO and my home.

Half of August (beginning late July) had near to no connectivity and almost everyday I had to call up the Airtel customer service (a. annoying ringtone and b. poor internal communication). I resorted to trying to get in touch with their “social” faces: @Airtel_Presence and the airtelpresence email contact.

I got a call on two occasions from two different people (Airtel_Presence), the first time, I had to explain how this wasn’t an issues that requires modem reinstallations or any of the usual circus the technicians tend to do (especially around these parts, you know “Dell Support, how can I help you?”) and the second time, I had to report back saying “nope, hasn’t been fixed”.

I ran out of patience, signed up for BSNL somewhere in early August and placed a cancellation request with Airtel. Someone calls me up again (and again) asking me why I was going to cancel the connection and I regurgitate the same set of sentences and so did they “Sir, I assure you that this will be fixed”. Which rarely does.

It seems that they finally figured what the real issue was. Perhaps a lot of complains from around this locality might’ve hinted at the root cause. And soon enough, the connection started faring better since mid-August. But on one bad day in late August, the issue resurfaced. And I raised a cancellation request again. The next day things were back to normal so I got the cancellation request cancelled. Or so I thought. Until last Wednesday.

The Airtel Presence folks mailed me back:

Dear Customer,

Thank you for writing to Airtel.

This is with reference to your e-mail, where in; you requested regarding
the cancellation of services towards your Airtel landline connection

However; later you confirmed us that you would like to continue your
patronage with Airtel. Please be informed that we are glad to have you
with us and look forward to an opportunity of offering you the best of
our world class products and technology in the times to come.

It is our privilege to have you as our valued customer and would like to
thank you for your continued support. We look forward to a warm and
fruitful long-term association with you.

Should you wish to take a landline/DSL connection with Airtel in future,
kindly contact the undersigned at

XXXX Kachroo
Airtel Presence (Airtel Customer Service Team)
Bharti Airtel Ltd

I was somewhat impressed at this point. “Man, Indian service providers are finally taking things like Twitter and customer service seriously”. I guess I was happy too soon.

Last Wednesday, my line goes dead because someone de-activated my connection due to some miscommunication (or so they claim).

I reply back (5 days ago):

Looks like there’s been a miscommunication on your side. Airtel has
discontinued my connection without any intimation. As a person working
in the IT field and relying on being able to connect to corporate VPNs
at odd times, this is very a very unwelcome experience. Please
re-enable my connection ASAP.

and got no reply. I call up the customer service each night after work, hoping for a positive response and on day one, support executive A listens to the issue, but forgets to log a request (I have no request number with me). Day two, I re-explain the situation to another support executive B and get a request number who says that “the issue would be fixed” (standard phrase around these parts) by 23rd September and gives me another request number.  So I don’t call them on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

There goes another night of unproductive work. Honestly, why is it so
hard for an Indian company to take service seriously. Does it always
have to be the likes of an Amazon?

I call them up on Monday morning to see what the status with the previous request is. And support executive C has no information regarding this request number. So she takes a fresh request and gives me yet another request number and states that “the issue would be fixed” (what did I tell you?) by 5:30pm the same day. I sighed a breath a relief. “Finally I’d get my Internet back” and go out. I reach back home with great expectations by 8pm only to be disappointed again.

I call up the service line again, speak to support executive D, who puts me on hold but the call got cut.

I call up again, speak to support executive E, told him that the previous call got cut – “could you please check request number xyz which I got this morning.” Puts me on hold, call gets cut again.

I call up again, speak to support executive F, requested him not to cut the call and check my request number xyz – which he claims didn’t exist. He puts me on hold and the call got cut again.

I call up yet again, speak to support executive G, told him how three calls of mine were cut; so he escalates to his senior (or so he claimed) and I speak to person H who couldn’t find anything regarding request number xyz (so I was under a false hope all day… expecting “the issue to be fixed” by 5:30pm. I explain the whole situation again explaining how all of this has been a giant miscommunication and that I didn’t had to have my connection de-activated and requested him to contact a backend team person immediately and flip that switch which gets me my connection back (all the hardware apparatus is here BTW, even the “Link” LED is blinking just fine – barring the “Data” LED).

Support executive H has given me yet another request number and claims that “the issue would be fixed” by 22nd September. And that I should expect a call from the backend team soon.

I plan to call them up again and quote the latest request number I have to see if their CRM if fucked in head. Because it has eaten up two request numbers of mine already, it’d sure be a hat-trick if this one gets eaten to.

So that, gentlemen, is a primer on Service Providers in India.

Note-to-self: visit the nearest BSNL office if the third request number really does get eaten up tomorrow and find a data card for my sister who is being affected the most by this because she’s working on her final year project and relies on a lot of Javascript/NodeJS foo that’s not really selling in books yet – making online references mandatory for her.


UPDATE (2011-09-23):

Hello again,

Despite your phone calls and promises on Tuesday that the “issue would
be fixed” in two days, on calling up the customer service today I
found out that the comments were added in the wrong category and
tickets were closed leaving no traces of the grievance I’ve been
facing since last Wednesday – been more than a week now.

I have no words to describe this situation at the moment. I seriously
hope things will improve – at least in terms of available alternatives
to the horrible levels of service you seem to provide.

I am in no state to receive a call from you ever again only to tell me
“issue would be fixed” in yet-another-two days. Save it. Don’t call if
you can’t get this resolved ASAP.

Yet-another-new-request number issued: 4543080 (I hope this isn’t fake)


Nope. Hasn’t been fixed yet.

Written by Naresh

September 20, 2011 at 1:00 am

One Response

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  1. Yes. You are right. Our internet connection speeds are way too low compared to the developed world. Customer service is pathetic.

    Indhira Shekher

    June 9, 2012 at 7:39 pm

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